For the third time this season, India enter a major assignment on the back of very poor or next to no regular preparation.
Keeping up with a growing tradition in Indian cricket, the men in blue take on Hong Kong in their Asia Cup opener in Dubai on Tuesday with a grand total of one complete training session as a team under their belt.
The substantial chunk of the Indian contingent was in England fighting it out in a five-Test series until last week. Last Tuesday was the final day of the fifth Test as India sunk to a 4-1 series win. Players like KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah played the last Test while Hardik Pandya played before.
The other half of the Indian team, without captain Kohli who decided to skip the Asia Cup, landed in Dubai in bits and pieces and trained over the last three days. The entire team practiced together only on Monday, a day before their tournament begins.
In a tournament that has the top Asian sides competing in the sapping September heat of UAE on pitches that are turning out to be very challenging for batsmen and bowlers, it is one of the worst preparations a team can possibly have.
But those who have followed Indian cricket should not be surprised. The Indians have made it habit of preparing poorly for important assignments.
In the beginning of the year, India played a three Test series in South Africa without a single warm-up match before it. In England, they entered the five-Test series with one truncated warm-up match and five days off before the opening clash.
A tight calendar is being blamed for such poor preparation. India were busy with an ODI and T20 series against Sri Lanka at home – days before the first Test in South Africa. Three players from that ODI series played in the South Africa Tests – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Bumrah and Pandya.
Then in England, the entire Test team got to play one warm-up match. Limited overs matches before the Tests against Ireland and England were made to look like preparation. A few players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma played county cricket and it helped them.
But the end result was India lost the Test series in South Africa and England.
The Asia Cup will be as challenging, maybe even more. With temperature over 40 Degrees and humidity close to 40 per cent, conditions are extremely tough. To top it, the pitch in Dubai is sluggish.
And then there are the opponents who have prepared well. Pakistan held an extended camp in Lahore and played practice matches before the series. Bangladesh showed they are in peak condition as they thumped Sri Lanka in the tournament opener.
India have had one full training session. Rohit Sharma and Co, who play two ODIs in two days with the second one being against Pakistan, who would have almost three days of rest for the fixture. Best of luck to India.
The five-time champions will be missing their talismanic batsman after Kohli was rested by the BCCI following a hectic schedule.
It means there will be more responsibility for the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and MS Dhoni to score the runs but Rayudu insists there is strong talent to take them all the way in September 28’s final.
“Obviously he (Virat) is a big miss and loss to the team. However, we still have enough quality in the team to go out and win,” the 32-year-old told the media during India’s training session at the ICC Academy on Saturday night.
Rayudu finds himself part of the international set-up for the first time since June 2016. Following an impressive IPL campaign for Chennai Super Kings where he scored 602 runs in 16 matches, Ambati was initially recalled to the India squad for England’s ODI squad only to be left out after failing a mandatory yo-yo test.
He found it ‘frustrating’ to miss the England matches but is fully aware there is strong competition if he wants to add to his 34 ODI caps in the UAE this fortnight.
“It was frustrating to miss out on the England tour but I am happy that I could make a comeback to the Indian team,” he said. “To be very honest, I have not really thought about it (competition) in that way. It’s just an opportunity to go out and play my best game,” added Rayudu.
India begin their quest for Asian glory on Tuesday when they take on minnows Hong Kong in Dubai before a stern test against arch rivals Pakistan 24 hours later.
Pakistan come into the tournament on the back of a 5-0 whitewash series over Zimbabwe while Mohammad Amir is among their quality array of left-arm seamers.
“The preparation for that game is going on and now we have a new coach to prepare for the left-armers. Hopefully, we will be prepared for them.”
India enter the Asia Cup in the UAE on the back of some dispiriting performances. They were expected to win a majority of the games during their recent tour of the UK but suffered a chastening setback in the ODI series before being crushed 4-1 in the Tests.
Many members of the Asia Cup squad played both the Test and ODI series and apart from being low on morale, must be exhausted after playing on and off for three straight months.
India will be without captain Virat Kohli who is being rested ahead of a busy season. That means the men in blue will be without their best batsman and ODI lynchpin. That should be music to the ears of opposition players.
Here we take a look at how the Indian team stacks up.
COACH – RAVI SHASTRI
The 56-year-old be under pressure after his plans fell flat in England. He can’t run away from the fact the management made some blunders in selection and preparation. No room for mistakes.
CAPTAIN – ROHIT SHARMA
With Kohli not there, needs to not only set the tone with the bat but also rally the troops. His most high-pressure assignment. The team is in a sensitive position and needs astute leadership.
STAR MAN – KULDEEP YADAV
The wickets in UAE should help the left-arm wrist spinner really showcase his skills. Most players in the tournament haven’t faced him and in a short clash like this, can prove critical.
ONE TO WATCH – KHALEEL AHMED
One of the most exciting left-arm quick bowlers to emerge in India after many years. Has pace, control and can move the ball. Has a long way to go but the basic ingredients are top class.
STRENGTHS – EXPERIENCE
Even without Virat, this team has loads of experience. MS Dhoni has played more than 500 internationals. A major chunk of the squad has been around for years and played major tournaments.
WEAKNESS – RECENT SETBACKS
It has not been a good few months. India lost the England ODI series and were thrashed in the Tests. Many team members played both series. Scars of those defeats will be carried to the UAE.
PREDICTION – FINAL
The Indian team has enough quality to beat most challengers in this tournament. They should make it to the final as they have a balanced line-up. But they lack the ability to finish things off.
Rohit Sharma (capt), Shikhar Dhawan (vice-captain), KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Khaleel Ahmed
Tuesday, September 18
15:30 India v Hong Kong, Dubai International Cricket Stadium
Wednesday, September 19
15:30 India v Pakistan, Dubai International Cricket Stadium